Why every young person’s vote can count

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Frantz Fanon writes: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

As we move closer to May 8 general elections, the sight of cupboards filled with essential groceries is a sight that still eludes many South African families.

The high rate of unemployment and low economic growth as a result of macro- economic failure, in reality translates to millions of South Africans sleeping with groaning stomachs.

In every busy intersection throughout the province one is likely to lock eyes with a man carrying a placard offering his readily available labour.

As our mothers in the northern half of the province spend a countless number of days negotiating with winter chills when they are not seeking refuge from the sweltering sun, in order to find transport to trade their metals in the neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is consistently one of the highest in the world.

It has been a cancerous fibre in the country’s DNA since the dawn of our democratic dispensation.

Even during former president Thabo Mbeki’s years when the economy was growing at a healthy rate, averaging 4% per annum, the rate of unemployment still hovered around 20%, with the extended definition (which includes those who have given up looking for work) flirting with 30% and above.

Job creation finds expression in all the manifestos of every major South African political party, as it is a national crisis that is a catalyst for two of the country’s biggest socio-economic challenges: poverty and inequality.

This can be said to be as a result of the monocrop nature of African economies a phenomenon which can be attributed to the roaring legacy of colonisation, where extractive economic activity is centralised in strategic regions while other regions serve as pools for cheap labour.

In the context of the Eastern Cape, the major industrial activity was saturated in major cities such as East London and Port Elizabeth which formed part of the union of South Africa and the Transkei and Ciskei bantustans were the pools of cheap labour.

The landscape of South African townships, such as New Brighton and Mdantsane, have not changed much in the new democratic dispensation as they are still teeming with an oversupply of cheap labour, while in recent years, since the great recession of 2008, economic growth has stagnated.

The manufacturing and mining sector, which absorbed the lion’s share of labour during the apartheid years, has become more mechanised and capital intensive and less labour-intensive, leaving millions of South Africans outside of the job market.

Almost every South African politician has been sloganeering about the advent of the 4th industrial revolution, a phenomenon that will tamper with the patterns of production.

The deliberate act to deskill black people by the apartheid government through rendering institutions such as Lovedale College and the University of Fort Hare to a state of decay, will have even more dire repercussions in the 4th industrial revolution.

The skill sets needed to thrive in a world of advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, differs to the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” which is the world black South Africans were conditioned for by the Bantu Education system and the disastrous Outcome Based Education (OBE) system.

This has led to mismatches between skills distribution in the country and the skills distribution needed by the economy in order for it to thrive and eradicate joblessness.

As much as our historical background can be singled out as the major cause of the employment crisis that we find ourselves in right now, it is not the only factor that has kept millions of labour-active South Africans basking in the sun.

The countries in the world with the lowest unemployment rates are those who have swelled their secondary sector and under the ANC government we have seen industrial complexes such as the one found in Dimbaza closing down.

In recent years we have seen more shopping centres mushrooming in the townships than factories that will beneficiate the primary products and curb the unemployment rate.

As we head to the voting stations on May 8, paraphrasing the words of Frantz Fanon – our mission as the youth of today is to find our mission.

I define the mission of today as that of creating employment and eradicating poverty and through the power of the ballot one will either fulfil it or betray it.

Asemahle Gwala is a political science postgraduate student at Nelson Mandela University, and Sasco Claude Qavane deputy chairperson

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